By Katie Kramon
Narcissism as a public service – a novel idea – and one that keynote speaker Alex Tizon focused on in his luncheon address Saturday at the annual APME-ASNE conference held on the campus of Stanford University.
Tizon, an assistant professor at the University of Oregon’s School of Communication, and newly minted author of Big Little Man – In Search of my Asian Self compared himself to Narcissus of Greek mythology, who saw his reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with it, only to fall into the pool and drown. Narcissism isn’t always this way, Tizon argued. In some cases, “a young man who stares at his own reflection, does so for a reason that is the opposite of loving himself,” he said. That’s what he did when he endeavored to write his memoir, and didn’t fall in love with what he saw in the pool of water, but came to terms with it, and understood it more completely.
Tizon began as a journalist at the Los Angeles Times, and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting while at the Seattle Times. All the while, whether consciously or not, his stories were serving as a long and winding road to his book, and his self discovery.
“Exploring and discovering the world is part of exploring and discovering the self,” Tizon told editors and media executives. In the people he interviewed, he found a nugget of himself – something he could relate to.
“Looking back, most of the stories I did were about outsiders,” he said. Some of his subjects: the African American hurricane Katrina evacuee living in Alaska, the first commissioned officer in the U.S. Army to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, the janitor turned acclaimed author.
“I was exploring themes important to me,” he said, “and in writing about them, I was writing about myself.”
Following his remarks, Tizon addressed the unique medley of traits that reporting in sensitive situations can require. He said you have to be tough, while maintaining a soft demeanor encourage people to open up.
When he transitioned to his own story, he used the skills he’d learned telling others’ stories.
“Today, we’re more accustomed to writing our memoirs,” Tizon said. “We write memoirs for our college essays, for applications, for fun, in school.”
The journalist turned university professor turned author admitted narcissism is a strong word but it makes a stronger point than “self-reflection,” and for Tizon, that’s the point.
“We are all flawed narrators, but the person who writes about it is the most reliable.”